COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- What would normally have been a uneventful drive on the Capitol Beltway turned into Close Encounters of the Third Kind for several drivers in College Park late Wednesday night.
Sightings of an apparent "unidentified flying object" being pulled on a flatbed traveling along I-495 blew up Twitter last night with witness accounts and pictures. The large, saucer-shaped vehicle garnered the attention of many social media users into the early morning hours, but WUSA is learning the incident has less to do with E.T., and more to do with the United States military.
Maryland State police says the military submitted a permit for a police escort, which describes the object only as "other."According to Jamie Cosgrove, Public Affairs Officer for the Navy Unmanned Combat Air Demonstrator Program, "other" was actually the X-47B, an unmanned air vehicle made by Northrup Grumman. The X-47B is also known as the UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator).
Cosgrove says the vehicle was transported across country after undergoing testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The X-47B's long trek started two and a half weeks ago and came to an end around 2:00 Thursday morning at Naval Air Station Patuxent River where it will undergo further testing as the first unmanned vehicle designed to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier.
Maryland State Police provided 8 cruisers to accompany the aircraft starting at the mile marker 6 of I-68 around 6:00 Wednesday evening. The large escort was needed to help guide the cumbersome load and block oncoming traffic as the hauler passed through bridges and over-passes.
The presence of a huge white tarp covering the vehicle, along with the aircraft's massive size and pronounced police presence only added to the mystery of the odd sight, which garnered much attention from motorists and subsequent social media enthusiasts.